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Thomas Robinson

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  1. Gentles All, Would you like to see some debate on the wave of issues that are affecting practitioners in the north east? I do not mean the factional warfare that surrounds the LI Secretariat, but matters of more local concern such as: the challenge to our profession arising from the NPPF pivot to biodiversity and beauty; the decline of the public sector and the rise of the private; the potential beneficial effects that come from a recreated Newcastle University Landscape School; the attenuated form in which design issues affect our perceptions and work; and the simple hard slog of trying to be contemporary in a political world that is still dominated by traditional ideas of how our villages, market towns, conurbation towns and cities should look? I am seeking a forum within our North East branch to discuss this and other issues. If you are interested, can you declare it in response to this post? Salut and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and let 2023 be a damn sight better that 2022. Tom Robinson
  2. And is it true that members of the Landscape Institute's core - by which I mean landscape architect volunteers and not the paid bureaucracy - are discouraged from responding to posts on this, the Institute's debating site?
  3. I have been discussing with a senior member of the LI what might constitute "low-hanging fruit" that could improve our use of GLVIA 3 without requiring its complete replacement. One of the things that seems immediate is what is the difference between a stand alone LVIA that accompanies a planning application from those that are a part of a formal EIA? This is a matter considered on pages 4 - 9 of the Ed3 and the distinction that emerges is one of terminology and purpose. I think most practitioners are aware of the differences behind the use of such terms as "impact", "effect" and how we are not to use the term "significance" out with an EIA and so use the term "importance", but I doubt we have thought through the implications of having a methodology for use in an EIA that we then use in a non EIA report. In an EIA, according to Ed3, the defining requirement is set out in the European Union Directive 2011/92/EU The assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. Obviously, since Brexit the overarching legislation has had to be turned into UK law and so the relevant legislation is the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017. But the intent is largely the same and that is (to quote Ed3), 2, "...the emphasis is on the identification of likely significant environmental effects." The implication of this is that there are insignificant environmental effects and this is made clear in para 1.17 of Ed3: "The Directive is clear that the emphasis is on the identification of likely significant environmental effects. This should embrace all types of effect and includes, for example, those that are positive/beneficial and negative/adverse, direct and indirect, and long and short term, as well as cumulative effects. Identifying significant effects stresses the need for an approach that is in proportion to the scale of the project that is being assessed and the nature of its likely effects. Judgement needs to be exercised at all stages in terms of the scale of investigation that is appropriate and proportionate. This does not mean that effects should be ignored or their importance minimised but that the assessment should be tailored to the particular circumstances in each case. This applies to 'appraisals' of landscape and visual impact outside the formal requirements of EIA as well as those chat are part of a formal assessment." Hence the use of EIA screening, in which the significant areas of effect are agreed with the lpa; and in this process what "significant" means will be based upon professional judgement, lpa or public concerns and, ultimately, case law in planning in which the term "significance" has been tested. But what is to underpin the definition of that which is important in an informal non EIA LVIA? Obviously, part of it will be professional judgement and lpa or public concerns. However, there is no underpinning as to what any of our synonyms in place of significant (such as "important") actually means. I think this is where NPPF (and its equivalent documents in the devolved nations) comes into play. Such planning policy guidance should be able to give each practitioner a framework in which to make judgements. Clearly, it will not do all the heavy lifting, but it could give us all a dimension to work in and so avoid the proclivity to merely personal feeling. Some landscape architects feel that their personal views are the same as professional views, but they should not be. Landscape and visual impact issues are as important in a planning matter as society thinks: no more; no less. The professional view requires an understanding of the site but also an understanding of the societal context in which we are expected to work. There is no reference to NPPF in Ed3 because they were both being written at the same time and the writers of the latter were unaware of the content in the former. But I note with some satisfaction that paragraph 1.5 on Ed3 specifically refers to "planning policy guidance" as being part of the framework within which EIAs are written; and I take this to be a validation of my point. The easy hanging fruit would be to make explicit that NPPF applies to both EIA and non EIA LVIAs; and then to develop some Technical Notes on how that document affects what we do.
  4. Rebecca, Since tomorrow is 1st April, I write now to avoid April Foolishness. Your contribution to my exchange with a LI administrator (who was btw, civility and helpfulness itself) was on 21 March 2022. My reply was on 23 March. It is now 31 March and you have not replied to my last post and so I shall assume that I will not have a reply from you to the outstanding queries raised in that exchange. So, before anything else - and I am going to propose several points - can I ask from what book of good management did you come across the idea that the way to engage with adult men and women is to just ignore them? The site is LVIA; the string is about the elections; my requests have been about the fundamental facts that pertain to any election: who stood, who voted, how did they decide and who won. After a tedious exchange I know three of these facts. But even now, despite my request that someone approaches those who put their names forward, I do not know the names of the candidates or even whether you have asked if those who stood for the GLVIA panel in late 2021 are content to be known? If you have asked and they do not want to be named then please tell me and I will shut up. At present I do not know if you have even asked this. Meanwhile this election - and it does look like this is what is was - is short of natural justice. People should know who stood, who voted, how they formed their decision and who was elected. To obtain these simple facts has been like pulling teeth. I am a member of this Institute and I deprecate this costiveness with simple information about how that institute works. This is not a good way to encourage people who want to be engaged on a professional level with cardinal issues that go to the heart of a significant area of the work that we do. The profession I entered in the late 70s was the one that spoke of urban design, nature conservation gain, landscape and environmental assessment, landscape infrastructure, landscape and environmental planning and even project management; and it was the influence of pioneering landscape architects who forced the very distinction between a development masterplan and a landscape masterplan. We have lost a lot of this ground to other professions and have resiled from the larger issues and allowed other professions to cut away our skirts (that is a reference to a well know Punch cartoon in the 1900s - look it up), to the extent that we are being ignored in national debate on issues to do with the environment (natural and urban). One of the reasons why we have lost ground is that we are intellectually incurious. The effect of that has been to make us retreat to our fastnesses and that has made us small and look enamoured of an approach to our subject that is rule driven, judgemental, riddled with jargon and preposterous in its blanket conclusions to a degree that defies comprehension - all of which applies to how a larger part of the wider world sees GLVIA 3. I chose this profession, the 70s, as a student of history and so came from a discipline of words and thoughtful speculation. I will not ask that you name the last man or woman whose writing about landscape architecture punched its way into the contemporary design debate, but I'd bet a ton against a pony that you couldn't. That is because there has been no such person since the late 70s - early 80s. GLVIA 3 reveals all of this absence of deep thinking. It is held in contempt by too many thoughtful people involved in planning who see it as just another pointless hurdle to overcome. No one believes in the authority of our judgements on landscape and visual impact, though they do use our words to justify independently arrived at decisions. They think our absolute judgements on contingent matters to be something that they are obliged to pay heed to by planning law, but they then look to see who the client is, and discount our conclusions according to the planning weight. We are, intellectually, like Paris theologians, puritans, Cartesians or Marxists: sooner or later someone is going to reveal the truth against our nostrums. That is happening now with the planning switch to an emphasis on biodiversity and what that means. Ecology is important, of course, but it not more important than landscape: the two are sides of the same coin. But we are becoming side lined in national debate and that will continue for as long as refuse to step up to the plate with demonstrations that our discipline is cogent, comprehensible, authoritative and not simply something that can pimped out to one side or the other in a development argument. Tom
  5. Dear Rebecca, Many thanks for your post. It was on 23d December last year that I asked the LI who stood, who voted and who won in the apparent elections for the GLVIA panel. I used the term vote because that was the term used in the email I received from the HEAD OF EDUCATION, STANDARDS AND ENGAGEMENT to announce the results of my application to join the panel following the invitation to members who were interested in the issue. When the information I asked about was not forthcoming, I added a further request about how the voting was decided, given that I did not know anyone on the panel, nor they me, nor was there anything like a hustings. It is now 23rd March 2022. It has taken three months to receive the basic information of who was elected, who voted and by what criteria this was this done; and even now, I do not know who stood. I have been told that this is information that cannot be given out without the consent of those who applied; but despite numerous requests, I still do not know whether you have contacted the GLVIA panel applicants to ask if they are content to be named. This seems like a slow way to respond to some reasonable questions put by a member of the Institute who cares about the matter at hand. It took four months to write the Constitution of the United States: that was done in the 18th century by hand written letters, meetings and coach post, and it involved 55 individuals who had to report to thirteen separate governances. But, and I am sure you must agree, the response to my requests has ben dismissive and this even when I asked informally and by private email correspondence. Why there should be this apparent reluctance to give information that is merited by simple notions of equity completely eludes me. After the last election to the GLVIA panel, the Institute quickly organised an on-line seminar of all the applicants (successful or otherwise) with the panel members to discuss issues of concern about LVIA, and obviously, in doing that, everyone was identified. Regarding your contribution to this exchange, thank you for setting out in your point 2 the criteria you used. Can I suggest that, in future, you set out what you want from applicants to this panel in some detail and, at least, include the bases you set out yesterday. If you are going to elect and not select members, you must make your judgements transparent. Otherwise you may give rise to accusations of operating selection by "confirmation bias". This undoubtedly is something I am sure you do not wish to do, but it is raised by your inclusion of the "ability to make a useful contribution to discussions" as one of the criterion - what on Earth does that mean given that we all write and speak English and live in the UK? That said, there is a whiff of something arbitrary in this process and joining the GLVIA panel seems more like joining an exclusive and rather small London club. I say this because, although you note in your first point that neither my (nor anyone's) information held from earlier applications was deliberately ignored in the assessment, you make clear in your subsequent clause that it was. Without meaning to be unkind, this kind of lack of clarity - doubtless unintended - can be found in GLVIA 3, and it is exactly the reason why I wish to join the panel. I shall continue in that aspiration because I work in this field, I am dismayed by the poor quality of the thinking behind too many LVIAs and I see the third edition of GLVIA as contributory. I can do no less. Regards, Tom
  6. Hi Abi, Now I am confused. I thought you were going to ask the candidates whether they were content to be known? Are you now waiting for permission from someone before you ask these people if they can be named? Also, regarding the form above, are you telling me that the information I had previously sent to the panel, based upon a series of questions the panel sent out before the Covid epidemic, was deliberately ignored because I had not duplicated the form in my latest application? Does this also mean there was not a standard set of questions put to the candidates based upon this form? How on Earth did the members on the panel who voted then make a decision? I realise that you are a proxy in this and have to pass my queries on to others, so perhaps you could ask the head of the GLVIA panel to reply to my queries on this forum, directly? It is, after all, the place advocated by the Institute for such discussion. In the meantime, many thanks for your help in uncovering some of the information I requested. It must seem like a thankless job, but I appreciate your help. Regards, Tom
  7. Good afternoon Abi, I was wondering whether you have been able to progress in the requests for information set out in my last post a week ago? Regards, Tom
  8. Good morning Abi, Thanks for your prompt reply. I appreciate you wouldn't know the criteria or scoring used, so could you ask the head of the panel to confirm whether or not the analysis you refer to was based upon the application form and how it was scored? I am content to leave my application form on this exchange as it is. Regarding contacting other candidates, the purpose of knowing who applied is twofold: interest in GLVIA is a minority activity, so knowing the interests of other members on this topic is a worthwhile thing; and it just seems to me to be in the interests of transparency that candidates know who stood. The appearance of secrecy - whether intentional or not - is discouraging to members and just plain wrong. Regards, Tom
  9. Abi, Two final things before this is closed. First, can you confirm that this the application form is what was assessed and graded? Application to join the GLVIA Advisory Panel. Name, contacts details etc Tom Robinson Robinson Landscape Design Ltd., The Studio, Hedgeley, North Bank, Haydon Bridge, Hexham, NE47 6LY Tel: 01434 684100 Mob: 07789 643 280 t.robinson@robinsonlandscapedesign.co.uk Qualifications Current employer and position Number of years in post and description of current role and responsibilities B.Phil. Landscape Design, CMLI Director, Robinson Landscape Design Ltd 20 years responsible for strategic and commercial management of RLD; client liaison; design quality; project leader; author of all RLD reports on LVIA & EIA documents. Extent of knowledge of GLVIA3 I am the sole author of any RLD document that includes landscape or visual impact assessment. I am therefore familiar with all stages of the GLVIA 3 process. Extent of experience with applying GLVIA3 (5, 10, or more than 10 years) I have been applying GLVIA guidelines since Edition 1 in 1995, and used Edition 2 from 2002 and then Edition 3 since 2013 Experience of reviewing assessments which have been or claim to have been undertaken using GLVIA3 I act as an expert witness in planning public inquiries and planning court cases. Given the adversarial nature of the planning system in appeals, I have always to read, review and assess LVIA reports that support a contrary position to that of my client (which can be a public body, local authority, private person or private sector company). My work writing and reviewing LVIAs has led me to realise that action needs to be taken to improve standards. Experience providing training related to GLVIA In the last fifteen years I have trained one person to author LVIAs up to GLVIA standard. I have trained numerous people on carrying out certain landscape and visual survey and analysis tasks relating to the process. Experience with participating in Advisory Panels or similar I have presented to Advisory Panels. What is your opinion of GLVIA3? What do you think are its strengths & weaknesses? I think GLVIA 3 is in need of refurbishment and possibly replacement. The problems vary and include issues of structure, context and meaning, to conceptual issues about what we are trying to do. 1. The structure is busy and distracting in that it uses boxes to point to other chapters whilst also highlighting some information in Boxes 3.1 and 5.1 – what is the significance of these boxes? What is the purpose of having a Part 1 and part 2 when the former is only 22 pages and the latter 132 pages? 2. The substance of the text makes no reference to NPPF. This makes no sense at all to me, since by far the greatest use of GLVIA 3 is as the methodology behind reports that are used in the planning process. If we do not identify how GLVIA relates to NPPF then barristers may insist that adverse impacts arising out of the guidelines are not necessarily the same as adverse impacts as the term is used in the Framework. I have heard this point being made in planning inquiries. NPPF recognises the importance of character and value: we should run towards it and affirm the link between the Framework and GLVIA. 3. Whilst GLVIA3 refers to the European Landscape Convention, it does not make clear the implications of the Convention on the work we do as professionals. If all natural and man-made environments are landscapes, what are the parameters that mandate us as professionals in the understanding of landscape to express an opinion that a change from one landscape type to another is adverse? It seems to me that this has to involve a consideration of whether the change is characteristic of the area; it also requires an assessment of the effect on physical features of that landscape; and an assessment of landscape value and the degree to which this is affected by the change. Significantly, these are matters that come up in NPPF in several areas. But all too often we have development on green field sites being ipso facto adverse (and I have read LVIAs that state emphatically all new housing is an adverse landscape and visual impact). This cannot be right: we must look deeper into the nature of the change. 4. What is sensitivity other than an artificial construct by landscape architects that combines two judgements of landscape that are incommensurable? The definition given in the glossary to GLVIA3 says that it is “A term applied to specific receptors, combining judgements of the susceptibility of the receptor to the specific type of change proposed and the value related to that receptor.” GLVIA 1 defined it as “Vulnerability of sensitive receptor to change”; and GLVIA 2 defined only Landscape Sensitivity, which it defined as “The extent to which a landscape can accept change of a particular type and scale without unacceptable adverse effects on its character.” The earlier definitions have the merit of being understandable explanations that enable reasoned judgements to be made; that of GLVIA3 is meaningless. 5. The constructed term in GLVIA3 has the added dis-benefit of hijacking a consideration of landscape value as a perceptual and feature of the landscape. Since the value that people place in their local landscapes and the hierarchy of international, national, regional and local designations of value is an aspect of landscape that NPPF and recent planning appeals have signified as important, it makes no sense to trap this important consideration into being one side of a matrix that is used to determine sensitivity. A proper understanding of landscape value and visual amenity value is an area that has further to go in LVIA work. 6. Finally, I do not believe that assessments have to be in Manichean world of good or bad. Some change is neither good nor bad; and we should not be afraid to say so. Please summarise your main motivation for wanting to join the Advisory Panel and what skills, experience, perception and contribution you think you will bring. Because I use this text and I think it is flawed; and those flaws enable wide disparities of judgement between professionals; and I think this shows the profession in a poor light. Any other comments None Secondly, since you know the names and contact details of all of members who applied, why don't you write to them if they are content for their identities to be known? Thanks Tom
  10. Abi, Thank you for that info on who voted and who is joining the panel. It is unfortunate that the information has to extracted in this way. I hope you can supply the list of applicants and also confirm that the panel when voting was not working to a matrix criteria but was simply forming a judgement on what the applicants wrote. Next time you should make that clear. I am also pleased that you recognise how infelicitous language led me a conclusion that this was a vote and not an appraisal of capacities. Finally, I am not dissatisfied that I did not join the panel; I am disappointed. I am dissatisfied however with the process and with the slowness shown to give some basic information on applicants and the decision making process. The distinction is important, for your suggestion paints me as a bad loser and I expect to hear no more of that. My position is one of a member puzzled about the secretive processes involved in joining a technical panel of the Institute.
  11. Abi, While you are writing your response to my last post, I went into my archive on GLVIA exchanges with the Institute and came across the email that informed me that I was not to join the GLVIA panel. I was told this (but not by you, of course): Thank you for your application to join the GLVIA Advisory Panel. Seven applications were received and every single applicant brought valuable insights to the Panel. However, we needed to make a choice and decided that each Panel member should vote for a first, second and third choice candidate. First choice candidates were allocated 3 points, second choice candidates 2 points and 3rd choice candidates 1 point (one Panel member shared their 3rd place between two people, giving each half a point). Scores were added up for each candidate and the top two scoring candidates given the two available places. The top two scores were 6.5 and 6 points. Your score was 4. That sounds more like a vote than an assessment of candidates capacities, not least because there is no mention of "meeting the criteria using the appropriate scoring or grading". Please could you put my unease to rest and confirm my simple requests: who stood; who voted; who is joining the panel? And could you tell the candidates (now and in future) what were these criteria? I thought working with the Institute was something commendable for members to do and that it was encouraged by the Institute. This process around the panel seems to be unusually secretive and feels more like an application to join some London gentlemen's club.
  12. Abi, Good morning and thank you for replying. I accept your distinction between an election and an application process. That said, from your reply, I have to ask what was that selection process and what were the criteria that you are referring to? I do not know anyone on the panel, nor they me. So how did they evaluate a candidates' suitability? In particular what was the scoring or grading metric that you were using? And who was successful? Surely, you can tell us this directly? At the last invitation to join this panel in 2018, the LI arranged a zoom/teams meeting where all the candidates and the panel discussed LVIA issues that individuals thought were of concern. Naturally, that meant that the LI informed all candidates of the identities of other candidates. How was this possible then but is impossible now? Finally, you refer me to the current panel membership. Does this now include the successful applicants? Regards Tom
  13. A number of people (myself included) applied to join the GLVIA Panel following the LI call for two new members. I have been told a vote was taken on who from the applicants should be elected to the panel and that I failed, which is fair enough. But thinking about this further, the lack of any knowledge of the process is disrespectful to members who stood and the lack of transparency makes the very idea of an election questionable. So can I ask the following: Who stood; who was elected; who voted; what was the voting system; and given that there was no attempt to organise hustings for the candidates, how on Earth were the voting decisions made? I cannot be the only candidate who did not know anyone on the panel. I asked informally for this information and was told the information was in some way impossible to release without breaching the privacy of other candidates. That doesn't make any sense to me. So I would be grateful if others who stood would also ask the Institute for clarity. Secret elections vitiate the point of elections.
  14. Can you please give us the result of the September pool of views on GLVIA3?
  15. Adrian, Thank you and I agree. I would be happy to participate in such an event. Regards, Tom
  16. Rebecca, Many thanks for your post. My purpose was to stimulate debate, so I appreciate you responding. Please excuse my delay in replying, but I caught COVID about a month ago and am just back to the coal face. I take your point that GLVIA3 neither recommends nor condemns matrices. However, the legacy of GLVIA 1 and 2 is strong and I think the words used in GVLIA 3 in Chapters 5 and 6 lead one to a matrix (see paras 5.55 and 6.43). Certainly, I have yet to come across a GLVIA assessment that does not use a matrix. If you accept that that is the case, then I would argue for more clarity in how such a thing is constructed and what the various terms of significance might mean. I have discussed this with Marc Van Grieken and one thing we think would be helpful is not to increase number of categories along the sensitivity and magnitude axes. Three a piece gives nine positions; but four or five increases the number of significance categories to 16 or even 25 - both of which far exceed the vocabulary we have to discuss levels of significance (negligible/minor/moderate/major or combinations of two of these terms). Having a bag of middling terms by extending the categories of the axes seems detailed, but it just increases the bagginess of middling assessments. Another matter is the intellectual brittleness of how we arrive at at a determination of landscape sensitivity and how it actually obscures a proper consideration of landscape value as an aspect of the landscape that goes to the heart of understanding how the public responds to change. The recommended methodology that asks us to determine sensitivity by associate value with susceptibility is as much methodological legerdemain as is the idea of "the withering of the state" in Marxist analysis: landscape value and the susceptibility of a landscape to change are incommensurable and so incapable of transparent explanation. The best we say is that our determination is arrived at inductively; but that's just another word for a guess. I agree with your second and third points; I just do not think landscape architects can be expected to act in this way when they are commissioned as part of an adversarial process. Call me cynical but I believe only lip service is being paid to the idea of impartiality, for it is my experience that landscape archiotects always support the case of the body that is paying the fee. That is what Mr White was suggesting. It would be better if we could recognise this problem and find a way of reducing its occurrence or mitigating its effect. It is for this reason that I would welcome more clarity on how we can arrive at a determination that something is truly harmful. All actions have some quality of good and bad effects; few are wholly one or the other. Is this not an area of landscape impact that is worthy of more debate? Similarly, when Mr Blue referred to "babble" he was talking about how landscape architects pick holes in the conclusions of other landscape architects by arguing over the finer points of methodology. I agree an LVIA should not be babble; but I think it is a good word to describe the hair-splitting lengths some landscape architects go to to rubbish the method of other landscape architects. I have experienced this personally. In general I agree that a number of the issues raised by my article on the unbuttoned opinions of planning barristers on GLVIA 3 and how it is used arise from the mis-application of the text. I believe, however, that this is a consequence of how the text is written - its purposes and method contain too much ambiguity. It is for that reason that I believe we need a through revision of 3. I am pleased that the Institute is holding a poll on what members views are on this. Regards Tom
  17. The following is an article on GLVIA3 that I wrote for the July edition of Landscape Matters. I am keen to encourage positive debate on why and how our profession carries out landscape and visual impact assessments. I welcome any comments from colleagues on the issues raised. GLVIA and the Louse There has been a lot of discussion within the profession this last twelve months on the methodology and purposes of ‘Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact’ 3rd edition – GLVIA3 to those who use it a lot; the purple book to some. The Institute held a webinar in December 2020 and Landscape Matters held a Teams discussion in February 2021 that I helped organise. Both were recorded and are available via the following links: the December 2020 Webinar is at http://www.landscapearchitecture.org.uk/glvia-guidelines-for-landscape-and-visual-impact-assessment/; and the LI discussion can be seen on https://youtu.be/o7j2sxfEHRY It’s fair to say that some people think the Third Edition, first published in 2013, is superannuated and work should begin now on a Fourth. Others think it is fine as a guide and all that is required is its correct use. The profession appears to be divided with, at least, a substantial minority in favour of change; and there does not appear to be any intent to begin work on a revision of the GLVIA text as it stands. I think the text is dated and ambiguous, I so I am uncomfortable with this apparent stalemate. I know the text is always under review, but I feel the effectiveness of this “Whack-a-mole” approach to individual problems is waning. One of the features of the debate that has always struck me is its largely introspective nature. It seems to be one in which landscape architects speak, in the main, to other landscape architects about their concerns on the method and purpose of landscape and visual assessment. This is proper up to a point: after all, we do the work and write the reports. But what about those who have to use our work? I would guess that almost all LVIAs are prepared to assist in the formulation of planning decisions and plan-making; both of which are the work of other professions. What do they think about the many pages of text, plans, photographs and figures that we produce? It was to get away from this introspection that I asked Landscape Matters to host a debate in which one of the contributors was a planning barrister - Charlie Banner QC of Keating Chambers. Being on the outside looking in, he was able to see our work in the round and in relation to the purposes of planning law. It was so startlingly original a point of view that, seeking last month to find a constructive way forward, I went back to him and asked if he would conduct a straw poll amongst his colleagues in the profession on their opinion of GLVIA3. I thought if the most insightful people involved in the planning debate were happy with the product of GLVIA3, then perhaps I should swallow my personal concerns. But judging from the opinions Charlie received, it turns out I am not alone in thinking it is time to reform and re-write. The following statements are drawn from the responses of seven planning barristers, five of whom are QCs, and they are members of five planning chambers. Although I make no pretence of this being a thorough poll of the profession, their comments make sober reading for all of us who have a bit of professional amour propre. Some of the comments are brief; a number develop their ideas; one sets out his concerns in detail. I have not altered any of the statements; nor have contacted any of the barristers to press a point of view. They asked to remain anonymous - though I know who they are - so, with a nod to Quentin Tarantino, let’s call them Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blonde, Mr Pink, Mr Blue and Ms Brown. Charlie Banner’s comments are identified, for these are the opinions he gave in his paper at the Landscape Matters discussion in February this year. All but one would like to see the document substantially revised, and Mr Pink gave the pithiest summation of its defects: ‘My view is that it is pretty hopeless because it seeks to impose a methodology which is largely meaningless. An LPA witness always can justify a case however poor and give it the badge of legitimacy that the assessment is GVLIA compliant. It should be much firmer and much more objective frankly.’ Ouch! There it is in-toto: a meaningless methodology producing a document capable of suiting any case; something loose that is too subjective. Methodology is, of course, the point of having a GLVIA; and the distinguishing feature of all the editions since the first in 1995 is the rise of the matrix; the development of the concepts that form the x and y axes; and discussions about what the nine (or twelve) resultant hierarchical indicators of significance can mean. We think that by using matrices we are being rigorous. But our efforts do not command the respect we hope for. Mr Blue described the product of GLVIA3 thus: ‘My thoughts are far more radical. I have long held the view that GLVIA (in its successive editions) is pseudo-science and overly complicates what surely should be pretty straightforward judgment-calls concerning landscape and visual impact. The fact that a whole industry of vested interests has built up round the “methodology” tells me that something is very wrong – as soon as simple things become the property of those in the know then it’s time to become iconoclastic. “GLVIA-babble” as I call it, I try my utmost to ban it from evidence and ask my landscape / visual impact witness to write up their evidence in a jargon-free matrix-free manner – it’s hard work and occasionally I get there! So rather than tinker, I’d put the book on the bonfire, but I know I’m a lone voice on this.’ This comment was seen by Mr White, who promptly replied: ‘Not a lone voice. I completely agree. I largely ignore it all. I find a simple pithy phrase like “developed countryside” or “deep countryside” is much more effective.’ Pseudo-science: is this fair? No one can deny that we are dealing with a complex subject. The word “landscape” contains ideas of perception, history, identity, culture, and requires an eye for understanding spatial forms and patterns as well as the knowledge of physical qualities of the earth such as topography, geomorphology, vegetative cover, usage and movement. It is to our credit that we try to organise our thoughts with comprehensible notions that are capable of being defined, analysed and discussed; and I think we do this to a very high technical standard and the best of the profession is able to explain why we respond as we do to what we see when we venture out into the physical world. It is when we try to answer questions about change that we seem to run into trouble. Often you will see at an appeal two landscape architects making fundamentally different judgements about the effects and significance of change; and the singular distinguishing difference of their respective positions will be that one is paid by the proposer of the development, and the other is paid by the local authority or the pressure group opposing. This in itself would not be bad if the arguments were about the analysis of survey information or the design of a proposal, or the options for mitigatory and compensatory proposals: all of which you see in ecology evidence. But it always comes down to methodology: which box the matrix places the scale of significance, and the judgement – good or bad; positive or negative; beneficial or adverse. This does not reflect well on the profession for it makes us look like hired guns prepared to act as advocates for a case, for a sum. I have even come across a case where a major, national, engineering consultancy, conducting a GLVIA 3 assessment of suitable housing sites around a town in England, recommended a site as suitable when commissioned by a housebuilder and then, three years later, carrying out a similar exercise for the local planning authority, again using GLVIA3, concluded the same site was unsuitable. The overt link between the payer and the song does our profession no good whatsoever; and it is the looseness of our standard text that enables this to happen. Mr Orange seized on this point in his critique of GLVIA3: ‘However its lack of a prescriptive (or even recommended) methodology means that LVIAs may be transparent, but rarely comparable, and the scope for argument over what are essentially judgmental issues is absurdly high. For example: (i) A lack of a proper yardstick - I repeatedly come across LVIAs which put the impacts of the development of a peripheral greenfield site adjacent to a 20th century in the top category of significance. This cannot rationally be right – surely that category would be confined to an open cast mine in an AONB. Yet the response is that it is for the assessor to undertake a bespoke methodology – which all too often means pitching it too high or too low; (ii) A failure to properly define terms - Surely the Institute could define terms for the use of assessors which are clear, for example, ‘significance’ as a term is applied in multiple different ways both in the grading of an outcome of an LVIA and a threshold as to whether effects ‘count’ in terms of EIA. Surely the judicious use of a thesaurus could avoid confusion; (iii) Mitigation - In ecology there is a clear distinction between mitigation and compensation – even in GB terms we now talk about compensation for GB loss. Yet the 3rd edition doesn’t deal with developing one parcel of land and ‘compensating’ for the loss by improving other areas, such as the creation of country parks, restoration of hedgerows etc. It feels as if landscape is about 15 years behind other areas. In any event the lack of a clear methodology means that how mitigation is dealt with and ‘fed in’ to an assessment is at the discretion of the assessor reducing the comparability of LVIAs. Surely a ‘this is how it’s generally done’ methodology and if you deviate justify why would help. (iv) Who is responsible for what - I tire of the number of times that LPAs don’t agree (or even do agree) simple things like methodology and views and then they become an issue at inquiry – either because it helps an argument or because a new professional has been appointed. A section which says what is expected and what should be agreed would be transformational. That could be done in the manner that a Transport Assessment is done – a scoping exercise (methodology, representative viewpoints, time of year, whether montages are needed etc) could be prepared and then agreed before the LVIA is finalised. The PPG could then pick up the consequences of not submitting/agreeing basic things as a costs issue.’ What Mr Orange is pointing to is our lack of some generally accepted calibration of the criteria for judgement. Surprisingly, given the circumstances in which almost all LVIA reports are commissioned, GLVIA3 makes no attempt to relate its terms or bases for judgement to the planning context in which these reports are to be considered. The justification for this is given in the preface to the third edition, which states that it ‘…seeks to avoid reflecting a specific point in time, recognising that legislative, statutory and policy contexts change so that guidance that is tied to contexts will quickly become dated and potentially out of step.’ But that is to ignore the fact that behind planning policies in England lies a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that says important things about the environment, the countryside, landscapes, landscape value, Green Belt, etc. that are intended to inform both plan-making and planning decisions. This is not planning policy so much as the stuff from which policies are made; and we can expect it to have a life that can run comfortably with renewed editions of the guidelines text. I think the reason why it is not mentioned in the third edition has more to do with the contemporaneous writing of the first NPPF with the drafting of GLIVIA3, but whatever the reason, to claim that ignoring the NPPF is a virtue for our methodology is preposterous for it leaves a vacuum in place of a shared perspective or “a common yardstick”. This is where GLVIA 3 calls for the professional to use “personal judgement”, but all too often it is the brief that you have from your client that shapes the point of view. This is the enabler that makes it possible for two landscape architects to claim compliance with GLVIA3, arrive at completely different judgements, and then proceed to slag off the opposite view by criticising their methodology. The experience is distasteful for those who have to suffer it; boring to those who have to listen or read the attack; and it besmirches our reputation as a profession. We need a common yardstick, and that has to come from national policies and guidance of which the NPPF is one in England (another is the draft National Model Design Code, whose consultation stage was published in February 2021). It seems to me that from such documents we may be able to form a set of parameters to inform and guide judgement. We should at least try to form some common ground for making our judgements, with a remit determined by planning law and guidance. At the heart of this matter is the judgement of development on ‘greenfield’ sites. Like Green Belt, the term greenfield is prejudicial because it conjures up positive image of fertile, natural worlds that often do not match the chemically addicted, shaved monocultures of much of modern farming. It dismays me that there is an emphasis in the LVIA process on concluding with a series of emphatic judgements. Charlie Banner put it thus: ‘Herein lies the main difficulty I have seen with how GLVIA3 is applied in practice. The way it is applied by most landscape professionals and decision makers (PINS Inspectors and LPA officers), any new built form on greenfield land will be deemed adverse in landscape character terms (due to the ‘loss’ of rural or similar character) and to the extent that it is visible, it will be deemed to cause an adverse visual effect (because visible built form is to be introduced where none currently is). Accordingly, the assessment which is intended to inform a decision not as to whether greenfield development is in principle good or bad, but whether this is the right amount and kind of such development in the right place, is focused on considering: how much of a bad thing is this? If this is how GLVIA3 is to be applied, there is a mismatch between the methodological framework within which the landscape assessment is to be undertaken and the policy framework within which the decision which that assessment informs is to be undertaken. It may be said in response that GLVIA3 does in fact permit decisions that landscape and visual changes are beneficial or neutral, rather than necessarily negative. Thus in relation to landscape character para. 5.37 provides: ‘One of the more challenging issues is deciding whether the landscape effects should be categorised as positive or negative. It is also possible for effects to be neutral in their consequences for the landscape. An informed professional judgement should be made about this and the criteria used in reaching the judgement should be clearly stated. They might include, but should not be restricted to: • The degree to which the proposal fits with existing character • The contribution to the landscape that the development may make in its own right, usually by virtue of good design, even if it is in contrast to existing character.’ And in relation to visual effects, para. 6.29 provides: ‘As with landscape effects an informed professional judgement should be made as to whether the visual effects can be described as positive or negative (or in some cases neutral) in their consequences for views and visual amenity. This will need to be based on a judgement about whether the changes will affect the quality of the visual experience for those groups of people who will see the changes, given the nature of the existing views.’ In practice, however, any prospect that these paragraphs will enable new housing development on a greenfield site to be judged beneficial, either in relation to landscape character or in relation to visual effect, is largely if not wholly illusory. Neither paragraph offers any steer on how the effects of such development could be judged to be positive (or neutral) and the reality is that the overwhelming majority of landscape professionals and Planning Inspectors I have encountered would consider that new built development does not ‘fit with existing character’ of a greenfield site (and thus cannot be positive or neutral in landscape character terms applying para. 5.37) and that it negatively ‘affects the quality of the visual experience’ compared to an unbuilt green field (and thus cannot be positive or neutral in terms of visual effects applying para. 6.29).’ Clearly, there are cases when development would have significant adverse landscape and visual effects, but GLVIA3 does not give us an effective gauge by which we can sort the wheat from the chaff. Can it ever be the case that building homes on farm fields next to existing homes can be judged at a planning stage as being a change that will be a ‘permanent, major, adverse effect’” on local landscape character, irrespective of how it is done? How could anyone think this is possible, let alone write it? The presumption reeks of hubris on a massive scale, and seems to me a statement that is simply intellectually impossible to justify. Mr White wrote about a scheme that he had been personally involved, where: ‘I got the council’s witness to agree our development had the potential to be beautiful. An unqualified beautiful. But of course the GLVIA had my witness having to admit all kinds of moderate-minor adverse impacts. Because GLVIA largely assumes new development is bad.’ We do not live in a Manichean world in which all change is either good or bad. Some change is just change, neither good nor bad. With antecedents that include EIA legislation, I understand the imperative in LVIA work to seek out whether or not proposed changes to the environment will result in significant harm. But landscape is not like air, or water, or soil chemistry or biology, each of which can identify harm to that which makes our environment liveable and sustainable. Judgements about landscape are nuanced and, although they can give rise to considerations about the sustainability of a proposed change, this is not always the case. Nor are most LVIAs part of a larger EIA. Perhaps we should be giving some thought to the role of a Landscape Architect when called upon to write a LVIA for planning purposes? What are we supposed to be doing? In Mr Orange’s opinion, ‘Anyone who has ever been to an inquiry would realise that there is a confusion over what a landscape architect’s job actually is. Thus, does her/his work inform the planning balance or determine it (how many proofs by such professionals end by asking for the appeal to be allowed/dismissed). There is confusion over whether such work should encompass heritage, ecology, detailed policy analysis, public opinion, map regression, townscape morphology – which is all good work for the lawyers but a failure of the 3rd edition not to be clear.’ This was seconded by Mr Blonde: ‘I agree with [Mr Orange] that the role of the landscape witness is often unclear. A case in point is the approach to Green Belt. Since Turner and Sam Smith, landscape experts have been opining on the impact of development on the visual dimension of openness. This often creates confusion about whose ‘job’ it is to assess different impacts. Greater clarity in GLVIA on the landscape witness’ role and the relevance of GLVIA guidance would help.’ I remember this was a cardinal point raised by Charlie Banner QC in the Landscape Matters debate: ‘… it is necessary to appreciate what the purpose of LVA/LVIA is. The assessment is not an abstract academic exercise. Its purpose is to inform a decision. In the context of greenfield residential development, that decision – stripped to its essentials - involves answering the question I outlined a moment ago: is this the right amount and the right kind of development on the right greenfield site? (Not: is greenfield development in principle good or bad).’ There were some points of support for GLVIA 3. Mr Orange commented: ‘Compared to the GLVIA 2nd edition (the blue book), having the 3rd edition is a substantial improvement. Where it does provide guidance then it is helpful (eg the approach to private views/value etc)…’ Which is good; but as Ms Brown noted there are still problems with how the book is written and she suggested that only a small part of its 157 pages is important: ‘I’m planning on writing a piece in due course - a treatise in defence of the purple book! … I find it makes for a lot of fun cross examination, there are about 5 pages that actually matter, and inspectors don’t seem terribly interested. There seems to be less and less interest in landscape, perhaps because it’s become over-complicated? I’m definitely not in the bonfire camp - I’m far too attached, but there are most certainly improvements to be made. I think it could be done in about 12 pages.’ Mr Blonde noted a problem with the use of language: ‘If it is meant to assist non-professionals in understanding LV effects then it has demonstrably failed. A plain English summary or companion guide would help. There is an inconsistency in terminology, which could be fixed by a clear and easily understood glossary.’ And Mr Orange returned to the idea of the imbalance between those parts of GLVIA 3 that regularly appear in inquiries and those that do not: ‘My perspective is partial – I deal with advisory work and appeals usually when there is a dispute, but it is nonetheless striking that large chunks of the purple book are never referred to, whereas a dozen key paragraphs are referenced over and over again. I know that the 2nd edition was authored by professionals who were regularly at inquiry, I don’t know if that’s the case for the 3rd edition. However, why not have a chapter on appeals which picks up what the job of the professional is at inquiry – if nothing else it will reduce the impression that is all too often garnered that a landscape professional (on either side) is acting as a hired gun to advocate a case…’ These recommendations are sound and they point to a need for something that is much leaner, clearer, less hung about with jargon, and which recognises the need for LVIAs to be something more than a litany of matrices. I particularly like the suggestion of a chapter on the role of the landscape professional in an appeal. Mr Orange continued with a brilliant piece of advice that should be taught on landscape design courses: ‘For my part I tell the landscape architects to dump all of their pseudo-science into an appendix and write their proofs as if they were explaining their impacts to my mother (a noted non-landscape architect).’ Or, in a more prosaic version, do what Mr Blonde recommends: ‘I’ve taken on board the GLVIA 3 recommendation to follow a more narrative approach to landscape/visual impacts but with greater and lesser degrees of success. I also tend to invite my landscape witnesses to ditch matrices or confine them to the darkest recesses of their appendices.’ Though much of this makes uncomfortable reading, and some of the comments point to a possibly growing dislike and contempt of our posturing, I am heartened that there is a recognition of the improvement between GLVIA2 and GLVIA3 and an acknowledgement that the third edition urges a more narrative approach. They just feel the need for us to go a bit further in improving our words, purposes and methods. Of course, the above statements are the opinions of just a small number of planning barristers; and a random sample of a few is hardly authoritative. But the sample includes some names that would be recognised by any who regularly work on planning appeals. They do not like what they see, nor do they entirely believe in what we write; and they either have doubts about our methodology, or hold it in plain contempt. If such views are commonly held by the wider pool of planning barristers, or by planners and planning inspectors, then we have a problem, and no grounds for complacency. I am reminded of Burns in his pew, regarding the airs and graces of Jenny, a fashionable young lady who was evidently very pleased with how she looked, dressed in her fineries, but who had a louse on her bonnet: ‘O Jenny, dinna toss your head, An' set your beauties a' abread! Ye little ken what cursed speed The blastie's makin: Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread, Are notice takin. O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us An’ foolish notion: What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, And ev’n Devotion!’
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